One night while Karyn Raidl, 22, was still in high school, she slogged back an entire bottle of tequila. Plunging into unconsciousness, her breathing grew shallow, her heartbeat eventually stopped and friends rushed her to the hospital.
She was considered dead for one minute.
Doctors were able to jerk her back to life, and now she’s a senior at Kansas University. She says she doesn’t drink tequila any more, but she does drink other alcohol.
“I don’t do shots or drink tequila by itself,” says Raidl. “(I) only digest one margarita.”
Like many college students, she says she drinks for fun.
Alcohol flows liberally among KU students, with 2009 representing a 10-year high for alcohol and drug related offenses on campus. There were 16 driving while under the influences and 28 liquor law violations — and those are just violations reported by campus police. According to KU statistics, more than 50 percent of students have reported doing something regrettable while drinking.
To combat alcohol abuse, KU has programs and services drafted to diminish the negative impacts associated with excessive drinking.
“What we do is provide prevention health education to all of our students here,” says Jenny McKee, health educator and grant coordinator for KU’s Wellness Resource Center. “(Alcohol is) the most widely used and abused psychoactive drug in the world. It’s pervasive, and I’m never surprised to talk to a student who has an alcoholic in their life.”
McKee leads programs, presentations and talks designed to educate and launch dialogs with students.
“We’ve breached quite a few students just in our presentations alone,” says McKee.
Students who seek help can go to the Wellness Resource Center and ask for information. KU’s Counseling and Psychological Services has a chemical dependency specialist from DCCCA who talks to students two days a week.
“Since we do go to the university and provide treatment services that’s a really good thing, because it can be right there,” says Jen Brinkerhoff of the Regional Prevention Center for DCCCA. “It’s really a great collaboration we have.”
KU’s Psychology Department, to some degree, also offers alcohol counseling. But for a few, that’s not enough.
“We sometimes have students that before they even come to college are already dealing with drug and alcohol issues and are looking for sober living conditions,” says McKee.
For those students, there are alcohol-free living quarters: Hearthstone and Oxford House, for example.
And without drinking problems of their own, other students are simply struggling with someone else’s. Fortunately, Lawrence has a strong Al-Anon presence — a group that offers fellowship to people impacted by friends and family members’ drinking habits. The Lawrence group meets on Wednesdays at Trinity Lutheran Church.
To further curtail problems associated with alcohol, KU launched a mandatory alcohol-education program last year. The new regulation requires students under the age of 22 to complete a two-part program that exposes them to information on drinking. Divided into modules, the program is layered with videos and quizzes. When it ends, there’s a test. Students have to pass it to stay enrolled.
“We have a very specific timeline laid out for the program and if they miss the deadline, there is an administrative hold placed on their account, which means they can’t enroll for the next semester,” says Wellness Program Director Heidi Garcia.
Another service is a student-stimulated campaign endorsing healthy drinking habits. Last year, journalism students visited college campuses known for having successful alcohol-related policies. After watching and learning from other schools, KU students put together their own campaign, which will be implemented next fall.
“There is a lot of support (for students),” says McKee. “The issue, though, is that until an individual reaches a mental readiness to change their current behavior, they aren’t gong to do anything. Unfortunately for some people, that’s a pretty low point.”